Posted in 2021 Books, Book Reviews, Possible Trumans 2021-22

The Unteachables – A Review

Goodreads summary here. And while you’re clicking things, add me as a friend on Goodreads.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My quick summaryMr. Zachary Kermit is beginning his very last year of teaching. He has worked the numbers and he can claim early retirement at the completion of this year. He’s in for a surprise at the beginning of the year when he is told he is teaching the “self-contained” classroom. (Side note – as a public school teacher, the way this classroom is described hopefully does not exist.) The classroom has been labeled by the staff and the district as “The Unteachables”, and no teacher lasts. Mr. Kermit doesn’t fight the placement. He’s been pushed around from class to class, and he knows this is the superintendent’s way of getting him to quit. However, Mr. Kermit is not going to quit. He’s got one more year, and he can do anything for one year.

This was my third Gordon Korman novel. Only three! From someone who has written over 80 books. I cannot even imagine writing that many books. From a quick glance at his website, he writes mainly middle grade/teen books. The three I have read are all more for middle grade, maybe even upper elementary.

The Unteachables was definitely my favorite of the ones I have read by Korman. The book is written from multiple different perspectives. While there have been a lot of novels published over the last couple years from dual perspectives, this novel dedicates at least a chapter to nearly every character in the book. I’m torn about this writing technique. It’s nice to see the story from different view points, but I also feel that I’m sometimes not getting enough character development. I didn’t feel like that with this book.

The book is really funny. There were plenty of times that I laughed out loud which drew looks from my daughters as I disrupted their video gaming. I do think that even though this book is clearly written for middle schoolers that many adults (especially teachers) will really enjoy it. I will probably purchase it for my classroom library, and I could see using it at a whole class read to discuss point of view.

Posted in 2021 Books, Book Reviews, ProjectLitBookClub

Dear Justyce Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Check out the summary from Goodreads here.

When I first read Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, I was blown away. Her style of writing drew me in from the first sentence. Dear Martin is still one of my most favorite books, and when students are searching for a book to read during SSR, it’s one of the first I grab. When I found out that Dear Justyce was coming out, I did something I have never done before. I pre-ordered it…twice.

When we first went home for the pandemic, I started searching for new people to follow on social media. Finding Nic Stone on social media was probably the best little gem I found. Through her, I have been introduced to a host of other authors as well as Project Lit. If you aren’t following her, you should. She is full of wisdom, inspiration, and just realness.

Dear Justyce is just another example of the wisdom that Stone has for us all. We follow the main character Quan throughout most of his life. In the present, Quan is in holding at a detention center awaiting trial. I think the blurbs out there give it away at to what sentence he is facing, but (as I’ve mentioned many times) I try to stay away from any sort of information about a book before I read it, and by doing that, it was a real mystery to me as to why Quan was in the detention center. It does come out, but not before the reader has a true sense of who Quan is.

I feel like this novel really opened my eyes to the way our justice system works. I’m not naïve enough to think the the system is flawless, but I had no idea how many people are in prison simply because they are awaiting trial. Have not even been convicted, yet they’re locked up, sometimes for years.

Another thing that really stood out to me (probably because I’m a teacher) was how Quan’s downward spiral happened after an incident with a teacher. He had a teacher that believed in him, supported him, encouraged him, but when she went out on maternity leave, the substitute didn’t have the same thoughts. This lack of faith, support, encouragement, and downright belief that Quan was a bad kid had a direct impact on the choices he makes.

Reading this book has made me really examine what I am doing with my students. Where do I need to be more encouraging, supportive? Where do I need to push them a little more?

I HIGHLY recommend this book to all educators. It will definitely be another Nic Stone books I shelf in my classroom and recommend to students.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews

My 2020 Books

From favorite to least favorite

This was SO hard to do. I read a few classics this year, re-read some of my favorites, added graphic novels to the mix, a couple short story collections, and read at least 3 nonfiction books. It was hard to rank them all.

Stamped was definitely number one. We read it as a family, and we all learned so much. I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the first time, (I know! Shocking! You know what’s even more shocking. I have still not read the 7th book!) and I loved it. Night was a re-read for me, and it has the same impact as the first time I read it. I’d say the next 20 books on the list are tied for 4th place.

Honestly, I really enjoyed most of the books I read this year. The last few on the list were just hard to get through. For some is was simply the style of writing, and it took away from the story for me. I know others who loved some of the last 5 or 6 books on my list. If I have learned anything from reading, teaching reading, blogging about reading, and reading blogs about books, it is that everyone has their own opinion. I’m just here sharing mine.

Stamped
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Night
Speak: A Graphic Novel
Other Words for Home
The Black Kids
Cinderella Is Dead
Let Me Hear a Rhyme
Autobiography of my Dead Brother
Ghost
Clean Getaway
All American Boys
The First Part Last
Grown
New Kid
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Nightbooks
Land of the Cranes
Free Lunch
Yummy
The Poet X
Look Both Ways
Kindred: Graphic Novel
Skyward
Head of the Colored People
Out of the Dust
Ignite the Sun
The Bone Houses
Fish in a Tree
Lu
Invisible Differences
When They Call You a Terrorist
Friday Blak
Eloquent Rage
Fahrenheit 451
Harbor Me
The Lonely Dead
Patina
Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets
March: Book 1
I’ll Give You the Sun
The Sky Is Everywhere
When You Know What I Know
To Night Owl from Dogfish
Invisible Emmie
A Good Kind of Trouble
White Rose
The Crossover:Graphic Novel
The Crossover
The Princess Bride
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker
Drama
Hey, Kiddo
Maybe He Just Likes You
A Line Tender
Nejma
Ghosts
Sisters
The Lovely and the Lost
Guts
For Black Girls Like Me
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
Dress Coded
Redwood and Ponytail
Smile
Booked
My Hero Academia
The Last Lie
Stargazing
Pet
Jo: An adaption of Little Women
Making Friends
Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board
Four Days of You and Me
I Am Ruth and Everything Is Not Okay

Posted in Book Reviews, Personal Journal

TBR – or will they be?

I saw that another blogger had posted about removing books from her TBR list, and I decided that it might be about time that I did the same. While I only have about a quarter of the amount of books on my TBR as she did, I still find it overwhelming to look at, especially as more and more books get released and added to the list.

I am writing this blog as I am working on this list. I am going to start with the books that I had added to my list when I first started tracking my books on Goodreads in 2013. So far, I feel like these books I want to keep. There are a few classics that I haven’t read yet, so they’re staying.

Okay – this is real life here. I can’t do it. I feel like nearly every book on my list is something that I still want to read. New idea. My reading goal for next year (even though I haven’t set it yet) is to read at least 100 books. I’m going to add a stipulation to that goal. At least 75 of them have to be on my TBR list. Eek!

At this moment I have 298 books on my TBR, I’m assuming that will go up as the Project Lit group announces more books for its list. But! It will be nice to make a dent in that with my goal for next year.

I hope you enjoyed reading my train of thoughts on this post and will help keep me accountable to my goal throughout the year. 🙂

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, ProjectLitBookClub

Book Blitz

Okay, so I set a pretty lofty goal for myself in terms of books to read this year. In all honesty, with the shut downs and stay at home orders, I should already be done with my goal. But! This is not a time to hold ourselves to “should-haves”. It is what it is, and there was a good month or so that I didn’t want to pick up another book.

About two weeks ago, I peeked at my Goodreads reading goal and saw that I was 15 books behind schedule. I hadn’t quite reached 50 books, and I set my goal for 75. In past years, I would have just changed my goal on Goodreads – I know, that’s totally cheating – but this year, I decided to figure out how I could still reach my goal.

Hello, middle grade novels! Now, I do mainly ready YA and middle grade novels because this is the age I teach, but I made a point to reach for books in verse and graphic novels.

I’ve read 8 books (nearly done with number 9) in the last 10 days. Here are my quick blurbs and recommendations.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Graphic novel – fully colored. Target audience is definitely upper elementary/early middle school. I still think the 8th grade/9th grade crowd would enjoy this book. Emmie is a very quiet girl who loves art and expresses herself well that way. However, standing up for herself and speaking up are not her thing. I felt this book would be perfect for 6th graders.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written in verse. Some black/white sketches throughout. If you want a book to give you some feels, this is it. It tells of a family and their run in with ICE and detention facilities. I think this books could be used in the middle school when studying stories of immigration. I know our 6th graders read Refugee by Alan Gratz, and this could be a good companion piece.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Graphic novel – fully colored. Cute story with a lesson of meeting people where they are and helping when and how we can. The main character learns a valuable lesson about not listening to rumors and making your own opinions about who does or does not make a good friend. This would be a good classroom library book for upper elementary/ early middle school.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written in verse. This book shocked me in the first couple pages. I have gotten to where I don’t read the back covers of books just to go in without any preconceived thoughts. I was not expecting this book to be about abuse. The front cover is yellow and bright blue, usually colors associated with happiness. This book was TOUGH for me. I tried to read it at school between classes and during my lunch, and ended up having to put it down for after school. Lots of tears. BUT I do think this is a good book to have available at a middle school. It is not graphic in it’s depiction of what happened, and deals a lot with the internal conflicts the victim goes through.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written in verse with dual-narrators. Redwood and Ponytail are nicknames of the two main characters. The way this book is written took me a minute to figure out. The two main characters have their own section, but there are conversations within the verse and the formatting was different than I had ever seen before. After I got used to it, it was fine. The two girls meet at the beginning of their 7th grade year and hit it off as friends, but there seems to be more there. The book does a great job of showing the internal conflicts of both girls. A great coming-of-age type novel. Fits well within the middle grade books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Graphic novel – lots of color. It took me about half-way through this book to go, “Hmmm, I wonder if this is a true story.” Maybe I should start reading the backs of books again, because it definitely says “In this memoir” on the back of the book. I really enjoyed this book, and felt very connected to the main character and his grandparents. With the language, drug references, and other things that go along with addiction, I think this is best in a high school classroom library. Maybe an 8th grade classroom library could be okay. I think the 6th grade parents would probably say something if their kid brought this one home.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Regular novel – as regular as a Jason Reynolds’ book can be. Jason Reynolds is the king of middle school literature. He also writes pretty amazing YA books as well. But this book was something special. Each chapter (section?) tells a completely different story, but they are all connected. The way Reynolds weaves these stories together is genius. I wrote my middle school ELA coordinator and told her that I think we should use this book for our short story unit and teach each chapter as it’s own individual story. It is definitely good for all middle school grades, and I think upper elementary as well.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Regular novel. Yes, another Jason Reynolds book made it to my book blitz this week. This one is the 4th book in the Track series. And again, not reading the side cover/back cover hurt me with this one. I had it in my head that the Track series books were all stand alone novels where the same characters existed. I do feel like you can read these out of order and not give away too much of the other stories. I read Ghost, which is the first in the series, and this one did not give away too much of that story. But, for my students, I would recommend going in order because they do build off each other. I love the way Reynolds wrote this book as if Lu is talking directly to the reader. It felt like a conversation. This series is perfect for upper elementary throughout middle school.


Now I find myself with 57 books read so far this year, 9 behind schedule, and 18 left to go before December 31, 2020. It doesn’t seem impossible, but I am also teaching full time and trying to write my own novel. Only time will tell.

Posted in Book Reviews, Personal Journal, Possible Trumans 2021-22, ProjectLitBookClub

An update of sorts

It has been a minute since I have blogged about my reading adventures. Or anything at all. This summer, like many people, I spent a lot of time reading, learning, reflecting, and changing. Everything I read seemed too big to write a review on. I started to think that my thoughts on these novels I love weren’t anything that needed to be shared to a wider audience.

In all honesty, I have very few people who read my blog. Significantly fewer since I left Facebook and can’t share my posts with my “friends” there. But I started to think this past week as we were all captivated by the election results that we all matter. Every voice matters. When we share our passions with the world, it matters.

My main focus will be reviewing the books I read. From time to time I will use this blog to share other things I am learning.

For now, here are the books that I’ve read since my last blog with my Goodreads ranking. I MAY come back and review these later, but for now, the rankings will have to do.

4 Stars
5 Stars
5 Stars
4 Stars
5 Stars
I didn’t rate this book. It desperately needed an editor, and it was hard to put away my English teacher glasses. The story was good though.
5 Stars
5 Stars
4 Stars
5 Stars
5 Stars
5 Stars

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, Possible Trumans 2021-22, ProjectLitBookClub

Maybe He Just Likes You – Review

Goodreads Summary

I’m just going to jump right in to this one. I finished the book about 3 hours ago, and I am still having a hard time putting words to why it just doesn’t work for me.

I will start with all the positives. The writing is perfect for a middle grade novel. The chapters are short, and there is a good balance of dialogue and description. The main character, Mila, is good, although there are times when I wanted to shake her. She grows a lot throughout the book and learns a few valuable lessons about friendship along the way. Her friends’ group is diverse, so that is appreciated.

Problems start for Mila almost immediately when she’s involved in an awkward group hug that involves a group of boys from the basketball team. Comments, random “accidental” touches, getting too close, and among a couple other things start happening with this group of basketball students and Mila. At first she brushes it off, but it doesn’t take long for her to notice that they’re singling her out.

THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS BELOW

Okay, so here goes my attempt to say why I didn’t like the book as a whole. Before I go on, I definitely appreciate Barbara Dee taking the #MeToo movement and shining light on the fact that this does happen in middle school. Sexual harassment is not just teasing or flirting or done because he likes you. We need to stop excusing bad behavior because “boys will be boys” or “boys are just immature.” Honestly, it needs to be addressed in elementary as well.

My problem is this. There is not enough punishment (rehabilitation???) for the boys. They basically get a slap on the wrist after 250+ pages of harassment; they get 3 weeks of detention and get kicked off the basketball team (but just until the spring if they can prove they’ve changed their ways). AND THEN, it seems like Mila and one of the boys involved in the harassment are going to start liking each other in the last two chapters. I don’t know if this is the intent or not, but reading it really makes it seem like there is this romance brewing (it gives all the subtle hints of other middle grade novels when two characters like each other…so….???)

I think I am reading this as a mother of a 7th grader. If this behavior was happening to my daughter, I would be LIVID. Mila’s mom is really flippant about it. Like she offers to go to school and talk to the principal, but Mila asks her not to, and so it’s basically dropped. I don’t know any of my friends with daughters who would let this just drop.

I do think that I’ll get this book for my classroom. I think it will be helpful for students to have it as a conversation starter about what is appropriate and what is not.

Posted in 2020 Books, Book Reviews, NetGalley

The Black Kids – Review

Fun fact about this book. I won it in a giveaway, and then a day later got notification from NetGalley that I had been approved for the early release copy I had requested a few weeks prior.

Goodreads summary here

I put all my other current reads on hold to start this one. I watched Christina Hammonds Reed chat about her book a couple weeks ago and was intrigued. It hurt my ego a little that the book was referred to as “historical fiction” since I can vividly remember the beating of Rodney King, the trial, and the outcry. I also remember a Doogie Houser, M.D. episode that focused on the protests. So yeah, I know yesterday is technically history, but when I think historical fiction, I’m thinking prairies or wars or societies without technology, not something I was alive for.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this novel. Ashley, the main character, is a senior and one of the few Black girls at her school. Her best friends, whom she has grown up with, are all white. She lives with her parents and her nanny, Lucia, in a nice neighborhood in LA in the early 1990s.

When the verdict is released, Ashley begins to go through a sort of transition. She starts to reexamine who her friends truly are, and she begins to see the ones she grew up with for who they truly are.

As America faces yet another incident of police brutality with the George Floyd case and the ones that have happened since the end of May and before, it was hard to read this book and realize America hasn’t changed in 30 years. Whites still think they’re better. Police still use excessive force, especially on Blacks. Systematic racism continues to harm our Black communities. It was hard to read.

Even though this book made me feel ashamed of where America currently is, I think this is a perfect book to add to any high school library. I think this will bring about great conversation, and it will help a lot of students (and adults) process through our current events.

Posted in Book Reviews, NetGalley

Dress Coded – Review

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Quick Summary: Molly attends 8th grade at Fisher Middle School, and she, along with many of the girls at her school, is getting annoyed with the school’s dress code. Girls are getting singled out more than the boys, and the principal has even hired someone specifically to monitor the dress code. Molly takes the matters into her own hands, starts a podcast, and begins a protest against the dress code.

This book is a great middle school book. The format was easy to read, and the text messages and podcasts were a good break to the regular novel format. The author did a good job of keeping the action moving throughout the book, which is vital to a good middle grade novel.

The main character, Molly, is a believable middle school student. She isn’t perfect, has family drama, and has to navigate bullies and friend drama. I appreciated the variety of characters within the story, even the older brother Danny who is the main cause of Molly’s family drama.

As a teacher, dealing with dress code is one of my least favorite things to do. In fact, most of the time, I just don’t say anything…except for hoods and hats, but that’s more for so we can see who they are. Most dress codes are unfairly focused on females, and I liked that this book tackled that subject.

As far as students who will like this book, I am thinking the 6th and 7th graders will like it more than the 8th graders. There is a little crush/romance, but it is a minute part of the book, but it does cause a little bit of friend drama.

My only complaint with this book is that most of the friendships are very surface level. Of course, that does seem to be the case with a lot of middle schoolers. The littlest thing can disrupt a friendship. Other than that, it is a good book that I think a lot of students will enjoy…especially those who hate their school’s dress codes.